Remdesivir available in Korea for treatment of Covid-19

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Remdesivir available in Korea for treatment of Covid-19

Gilead Sciences' remdesivir. [YONHAP]

Gilead Sciences' remdesivir. [YONHAP]

 
Remdesivir, the antiviral drug from Gilead Sciences that may be effective in the treatment of Covid-19, was made available to Korean patients starting Wednesday.
 
Injections will be approved for patients with severe symptoms, which now number 33 in the country. Patients will be informed within a day whether they are qualified to receive the medicine.
 
According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), remdesivir will be offered free of charge for the month of July under an agreement signed with Gilead Sciences Korea on Monday. The pharmaceutical company donated the initial batch.
 
The Foster City, California-based firm has donated remdesivir for clinical trials worldwide and to countries that approve the drug on an emergency basis. The exact amount granted to Korea for July was not disclosed in line with contract conditions.
 
The supply comes a month after the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety approved the emergency import on June 3 upon the KCDC’s request. Korea's Pharmaceutical Affairs Act allows for fast-tracked importation of medicines in the event of a national emergency.  
 
At the moment, 33 Covid-19 patients in the country meet the government’s definition of severe symptoms: 20 are in critical conditions, relying on machines for breathing and life support, while 13 are on oxygen therapy or with a high fever.  
 
“We selected among patients that are on oxygen therapy and were diagnosed within the past 10 days,” said KCDC Director Jung Eun-Kyeong in a Wednesday briefing. “Their doctors will ultimately decide on whether the injection is administered.” 
 
Once the doctor decides the patient is in need of the drug, the hospital will submit a request and the required documents to the National Medical Center (NMC). An internal committee will screen these documents and determine whether remdesivir should be prescribed. If all requirements are met, the patient will be informed within 14 hours, the NMC said.  
 
Each patient will be given six vials of remdesivir for a five-day course and receive another five days' worth if necessary.  
 
From August, the drug will have to be purchased at a price negotiated by the government and Gilead Sciences. The extent of medical insurance coverage will be decided thereafter. Negotiations between local authorities and the U.S. pharmaceutical company regarding price have not yet started, according the KCDC.  
 
In an open letter on June 29, Gilead Sciences CEO Daniel O'Day said the company had “set a price for governments of developed countries at $390 per vial,” making the anticipated cost for each patient to $2,340 for a five-day treatment using six vials of the product.  
 
Originally developed to combat Ebola, remdesivir was found to shorten the recovery period of some Covid-19 patients from around 15 to 11 days and reduce the fatality rate in a clinical trial in the United States earlier this year.  
 
BY SONG KYOUNG-SON   [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]

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